CQ Roll Call Report:  Water a Top Priority for California Legislators in 2015

Water was the number one issue on the minds of California state lawmakers during the 2015 legislative session. The state’s extended drought has driven debate and in some cases action on both water supply and water management. According to the Roll Call report, California now has a first-ever plan to regulate groundwater.  As we discuss below, in 2014 voters did approve a $7.5 million injection of taxpayer funds (known as Proposition 1) to address the state’s aging water infrastructure, but voters know that far more funding is needed to provide the infrastructure necessary for coping with drought conditions.

California Voters Pass $7.5 Billion Bond

On November 4, 2014 California voters approved a $7.5 billion injection of taxpayer funds to address the state’s aging water infrastructure. The bond was the fourth largest in California’s history, and its approval had become a high priority for many of the state’s legislators from both parties and for Governor Brown. The bond, known as Proposition 1, is intended to help California’s ability to cope with drought conditions, increase its water storage capacity and protect drinking water. It passed with roughly 67 percent of the vote.

Proposition 1 authorizes $7.12 billion in general obligation bonds for state water supply infrastructure projects. These include public water system improvements, surface and groundwater storage, drinking water protection, water recycling and advanced water treatment technology, water supply management and conveyance, wastewater treatment, drought relief, emergency water supplies, and ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration. It appropriates money from the state’s General Fund to pay off bonds, and requires certain projects to provide matching funds from non-state sources in order to receive bond funds. The bond funds will be distributed through a competitive grant process overseen by various state agencies. For more details on Proposition 1, including the specific spending proposals it includes, click here.

California and Houston Mayors Speak Out on America's Urban Water Crisis

The mayors of San Francisco and Houston recently issued a clarion call to the federal government to stop ignoring the problem of our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure.

In a piece published in Politico Magazine in September, Mayors Ed Lee, San Francisco, and Annise Parker, Houston, decry the government’s passive approach to the risk of systemic water system failure in our nation’s cities. They point out that America was built on the foundation of water and wastewater pipes and tunnels and write that “today, that foundation is crumbling right under our feet.” They cite a report of the U.S. Conference of Mayors estimating that $4.8 trillion will be needed over the next 20 years to fix our country’s water systems and maintain current water service levels. Citing the urgency of the problem in the two cities they govern, Lee and Parker write that in 2013 alone, Houston lost more than 22 billion gallons of water — 15 percent of the city’s total water supply — due to leaking pipes. That same year, there were 100 water main breaks in San Francisco. Despite this enormous cost, they say, “the federal government continues to ignore the problem. In fact, federal spending on water infrastructure is down more than 30 percent since fiscal year 2012.”

Lee and Parker make the case for the importance of water for agriculture and livestock populations, for food supplies, exports and trade, electricity and fuel generation and energy independence. As just one example, they point to equipment manufacturer GE reporting a tripling in demand for water for energy production since 1995. And they emphasize that water infrastructure investment means jobs. Lee points out that in San Francisco, for example, since 2007 the $4.6 billion investment in the region’s water system rebuild has employed 11,000 workers and counting. Lee points to a Commerce Department estimate that each of those jobs created locally creates 3.68 jobs in the national economy, and each public dollar spent yields $2.62 in economic output in other industries. These findings are consistent with those of the CWC in its economic impact study on the job creation and economic benefits that come with water and wastewater infrastructure projects. In that study, called Sudden Impact of Funding Water Infrastructure Projects, the CWC evaluated the effect of a $1 billion investment in water and/or wastewater infrastructure in terms of job creation and other economic factors, and found that every $1 billion could create approximately 27,000 jobs. For the full Sudden Impact analysis of the positive economic ripple effects of water infrastructure investment, click here.

Lee and Parker detail ways in which they and other mayors believe this massive problem can be addressed, including fully funding the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act pilot program that was established in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. As we have discussed before on this blog, WIFIA provides low-interest loans and other credit support for water infrastructure projects. The Mayors point out that if San Francisco had access to a program like WIFIA, it would have saved $700 million for residents and ratepayers on a recent water system rebuild. Lee and Parker also recommend passing legislation to establish a National Infrastructure Bank to provide low-cost financing for infrastructure projects of regional significance, and support the creation of a program for water workforce development, training and education to ensure there is a pool of qualified professionals to meet current and future needs.

Lee and Parker have, as they write, spent time in their cities’ tunnels so they’ve seen first hand the looming problem of failing infrastructure and the need to invest in that infrastructure now. We at CWC couldn’t agree more.

To read the full article, click here.

California receives $183 million to improve water quality and infrastructure

Thu, 2014-10-02 09:13 PM

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld has announced more than $183 million in funding to invest in California for statewide improvements in local water infrastructure and the reduction of water pollution.

“Water is the lifeblood of our communities and EPA is committed to working with our state and city partners to protect this precious resource,” said Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Today’s funding will help create construction jobs, develop infrastructure and conserve resources as we deal with the challenge of climate change.”

The City of Fresno, through a zero percent interest loan from the state, used the $51 million in drinking water funding to purchase and install 73,152 water meters in residential homes in several neighborhoods. The meters help homeowners and the city easily identify how much water homes are using and have an electronic device that helps the city obtain quicker and more accurate meter readings. Since the installation of the meters was completed this year, water usage in the city has decreased by 25 percent, according to the EPA.

“Water conservation and drinking water quality are of utmost importance to the health and welfare of the people of the State of California, not only as we deal with the challenges of this devastating drought, but as we face future droughts,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “The State Water Resources Control Board is glad to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in making this important funding source available to communities for both safe drinking water and water conservation.”

During a drought every drop of water counts, and meters are critical components in the effort to decrease the loss from leaks in the supply system. About 283 billion gallons of water are lost from leaks in California’s urban water systems every year. This lost water accounts for $250 million in energy costs to transport water. The ability to detect leaks through the installation of water meters can reduce water use and save energy -- conveying water accounts for 6.3% of the state’s total electricity requirements.

The $183,500,000 in additional funding announced today will be used for California water quality projects that will reduce water pollution, improve municipal drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, make water and energy projects more efficient, and provide technical assistance to communities.

In addition, the State Water Board is working with the City of Fresno on a Consolidation Incentive Project with the Orange Center School.

The project, estimated to cost approximately $250 million, envisions a new surface water treatment plant to supplement the city’s existing ground water supply. It will also extend water service to the school to meet all safe drinking water standards, via a 14-inch water main, freeing the school from relying on their existing well water. The Consolidation Incentive Program encourages larger water systems to partner with other communities to obtain priority for funding and expand the benefits and cost-effectiveness of system improvements.

Major Infrastructure Problems Come to Light

Recent developments in California reveal the appalling condition of that state’s water infrastructure and highlight the problems that all states face in this area.

First, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Mountain Tunnel, a key part of the Hetch Hetchy water system which supplies 2.6 million Bay Area residents and businesses, is at risk of a “catastrophic collapse” and needs to be repaired or replaced.

Public officials have apparently long been aware that significant work is needed on the 89-year old tunnel but the PUC has to date given priority to upgrading water infrastructure thought to be vulnerable to fail in an earthquake. The PUC is now faced with the decision of whether to reinforce the tunnel, which would require shutting it down for two months at a time for up to 10 years at an estimated cost of $100 million, or build a new one at a price of $630 million.

“The risk right now is that the tunnel lining could continue to fail and, at some point, that might restrict our ability to get flow through it,” said PUC executive Steve Ritchie. “That would be catastrophic to us – any rapid failure that results in the reduction of water flow by 25 percent. That’s a big deal.” By some estimates, the tunnel’s collapse would cut off, for months, 85 percent of the water needed by residents, businesses and community agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information, click here.

And a new analysis of California state records by the San Jose Mercury News revealed that Bay Area residents have been losing about 23 billion gallons of water a year as a result of leaky pipes. According to the report, aging and broken water pipes have leaked enough water annually to submerge the island of Manhattan by five feet, enough to meet the needs of 71,000 families for an entire year. This news is especially disturbing to residents who are being forced to significantly cut water use due to the state’s severe draught.To read more about the reported leaks in the Bay Area, click here.

Huge Water Main Break Damages UCLA Athletic Facilities

On July 29, a broken 30-inch water main gushed water onto Sunset Boulevard near the University of California, Los Angeles campus. The geyser from the 93-year-old water main turned the street into a river and sent an estimated 20 million gallons of water across the school’s athletic facilities, including the famed floor of Pauley Pavilion, the neighboring Wooden Center and the Los Angeles Tennis Center. The water main rupture was the worst in Los Angeles since a larger and older pipeline burst in the Studio City district in 2009, flooding nearby homes and businesses, according to the city’s Department of Water and Power. The break on July 29 highlighted the aging condition of much of the city’s water infrastructure.

Rep. Napolitano’s Statement on House Passage of WRRDA

May 20, 2014

(Washington, DC) Today, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32) released the following statement on the passage of the Final Conference Report of H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA):

“WRRDA is a product of great bipartisan cooperation, and our entire nation will benefit from this important water infrastructure bill. It is a job producer that will be a great asset to agencies in delivering much needed assistance to languishing water projects. Many states whose projects have long been ignored and underfunded will now receive Army Corps assistance.”

“Our region benefits greatly by assistance to the Santa Fe Dam, as well as the nearby Whittier Narrows Dam, the two largest Army Corps reservoirs in Los Angeles County. WRRDA will significantly improve water supply and levee vegetation management in arid regions such as California, increase the ability for local water agencies to accept funding, and protect our water resources from invasive species threats, such as quagga mussels, shore crab, and certain algae. The bill includes better distribution of funds for ports and ensures a greater percentage of money spent by our ports will remain in California, which will be very beneficial to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and allow more goods to come into our region. Thank you Chairwoman Boxer, Chairman Shuster, the rest of my colleagues, and all of our staff for the great bipartisan work in taking this critical step toward fixing our nation’s water infrastructure.”

The Final Conference Report was passed by the House of Representatives today with large bipartisan support by a vote of 412-4 and is expected to be passed by the Senate soon. Napolitano was appointed in November as a conferee for the WRRDA Conference Committee, representing the House Natural Resources Committee. She is also the senior California member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and serves on the Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment.